Sharjah’s unique cultural vision resonates across Europe, draws global audiences at BCBF 2022

Sharjah has enriched the Italian cultural landscape by opening a window into the diverse and historically rich traditions of culture, art, and music from the Emirati and Arab worlds at the recently concluded 59th Bologna Children’s Book Fair (BCBF) where the emirate was feted as Guest of Honour.

For four days, the emirate unveiled a cultural extravaganza in the northern Italian city to showcase its cultural project and build bridges of communication and collaboration between Arab and Italian cultural entities. At its Guest of Honour pavilion, Sharjah also strengthened cooperation between publishers, authors and illustrators from Europe, UAE, and the Arab world.

From turning the spotlight on opportunities in the Arab book industry and exploring the delightful worlds of Arabic calligraphy and children’s book illustrations to promoting Emirati heritage and popular art, music, garments, craft traditions and more, Sharjah’s vibrant range of activities introduced the unique strengths of cultural institutions and entities across the emirate to global audiences at the book fair.

Sharjah’s pavilion witnessed a large footfall of European visitors of all age groups throughout the four days of the fair. Visitors enjoyed performances led by the Sharjah National Band; many showed interest in learning Emirati traditional dancing, others queued up to have their names written in stylised Arabic calligraphy while women and girls of various nationalities adorned their hands with henna and photographed themselves in traditional Emirati clothing.

Sharjah has led discussions on the challenges and opportunities of publishing in the current markets and explored prospects for the future. Panel discussions and literary seminars featuring authors, publishers, artists and translators from Italy and the UAE shed new light and unique perspectives on children’s book illustrations, translation, and the global book industry. The emirate explored potential solutions to enhance the knowledge industry and boost outcomes for book production both regionally and internationally, and in doing so, has offered a great opportunity to build partnerships and reinforce cooperation between Italian and Emirati cultural entities.

At the main gate of the BolognaFiere Exhibition Centre where BCBF was held, Sharjah organised a group art exhibition titled, ‘Insight, Reflect’, featuring 20 Emirati children’s book illustrators. The exhibition captured the interests of publishers, illustrators, and readers and introduced book makers from around the world to the thriving art scene in the UAE and its impact on Arabic children’s literature.  

To facilitate exchange of knowledge and creative expertise, the Sharjah pavilion was transformed into a platform for creative art workshops that focused on children’s book illustrations and doll-making, and hosted dozens of promising and expert Emirati artists who showcased their creativity in art and handmade crafts.

Sheikh Fahim Al Qasimi, Chairman of the Department of Government Relations (DGR) in Sharjah, who headed the emirate’s Guest of Honour delegation at the book fair, said: “Recognising the important status bestowed on Sharjah as Guest of Honour at BCBF 2022, the emirate presented an inclusive literary and cultural programme that celebrates arts, literature and heritage.  These form the key pillars of Sharjah’s cultural project and reflects the vision and directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, to nurture holistic personality development in our children by offering them an environment where they have the best possible access to books and knowledge that will teach them about their past, and at the same time, prepare them for future leadership.” “The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is one of the most prestigious international events dedicated to children’s literature that witnesses, each year, an exciting exchange of experiences and cooperation agreements between publishing professionals and cultural entities to shape and nurture a future that brings children worldwide closer together.”

“We are proud of Sharjah – the city where we grew up, the city that offered us an environment that encouraged us to learn and fostered the values of collaboration and understanding. And when we take these experiences to the world, we are proud to share something remarkable with people who are champions of cultural exchange and progress,” he concluded.

For his part, HE Ahmed Al Ameri, Chairman of SBA, said: “The great cultural momentum achieved through Sharjah’s participation in BCBF reflects the broad vision of the emirate’s cultural project in line with the directives and guidance of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, who has always believed that what truly represents a nation’s identity and exemplifies its authenticity are books, art and knowledge. More than four decades ago, His Highness was the first to forge communication and dialogue with cultures and civilisations around the world on the strengths of these firm foundations, and its positive sustainable impact continues to grow and flourish.”

“Sharjah’s presence at BCBF 2022 offered a vibrant platform to introduce Italian and European peoples to the richness and diversity of Emirati and Arab culture and enabled them to discover the commonalities that bind us together, in addition to the noble values we share. Seeing visitors at the Sharjah pavilion engage with heritage shows, explore Arabic calligraphy artworks, and even pore over Arabic books translated into Italian, has fulfilled one of our key objectives and was the outcome of efforts of Sharjah’s cultural entities and their representatives at the fair,” he added.

“The selection of Sharjah as Guest of Honour at BCBF reinforces the position of the emirate on the map of global cultural cities and marks a step forward in achieving more fruitful and constructive communication with Italian and European cities, while also enhancing the global cultural landscape with the unique cultural identity of the UAE and the Arab world,” Al Ameri concluded.

Sharjah’s Guest of Honour pavilion at BCBF saw the participation of: Sharjah Book Authority, which oversaw the programming agenda of the Guest of Honour activities, Emirates Writers Union, Sharjah Broadcasting Authority, Sharjah Publishing City, Sharjah Department of Culture, Sharjah Heritage Institute, Emirates Publishers Association, the UAE Board on Books for Young People, Kalimat Group, Kalimat Foundation, Knowledge Without Borders, and 1001 Titles initiative.